What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Harassment in California?

In essence, California’s civil law and criminal harassment laws are two distinct bodies of law with separate sets of laws. Also, the types of harassment charges differ between them.

However, confusion between criminal and civil harassment cases is not uncommon. For instance, how is it plausible for the same act to result in criminal and civil harassment charges? The answer lies in the distinction between the civil and criminal court systems.

Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to have a reputable bail bonds company on speed dial in case there’s a mix-up between your civil and criminal cases—in criminal harassment cases; bail may be required.

Civil harassment laws in California

In a civil case, a person files a suit in civil court to seek financial restitution for harm done to them by another person. Civil courts may also issue injunctions to compel another party to stop engaging in harmful behavior.

In these cases, the plaintiff sues both the perpetrator and any other entity that was in some way responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.

Civil cases are decided by a preponderance of proof, which means that even though (technically) less evidence can be used in a civil case, it must still be compelling to a judge or jury. The plaintiff’s and their attorney’s responsibility is to present this proof. So, one should hire an attorney who knows how to prove harassment in court.

What constitutes civil harassment

The following acts constitute what is considered harassment: assault, battery, stalking, and threatening violence. Nevertheless, the threat has to be convincing enough that a sensible person would be concerned for their own or family’s safety.

In most cases, the person filing the harassment lawsuit is looking for a monetary award through a settlement or a jury verdict. The victim may also seek a civil harassment restraining order from the court. So the types of harassment charges are usually lower than those of criminal cases.

Criminal harassment laws in California

The county/state brings criminal harassment charges in criminal court to impose a penalty for the crime’s commission. The district attorney’s (D.A.) office usually brings them against the perpetrator. The District Attorney is not the victim’s lawyer but rather the lawyer for “the people.” And therefore, what is best for the prosecutor isn’t always best for the victim.

Criminal cases end with the perpetrator being charged with a crime and sentenced to prison time. Nonetheless, after their first hearing, they may be given the option of posting cash bail—though cash bail has been eliminated for defendants who cannot afford it. Those who can but do not have sufficient funds on hand can obtain funds through the bail bonds process.

What constitutes criminal harassment

Criminal harassment is highlighted in California Penal Code sections 646.9(a) and 422. (a). The crime of stalking is defined in California Penal Code 646.9(a) as willfully, wrongfully, and repeatedly following, harassing, or making a viable threat with the intent of putting that person in legitimate concern for their safety or the safety of their close family.

There are different types of harassment charges, including the following

A fine of no more than $1,000
A one-year imprisonment sentence in a county jail or state prison

Willfully threatening to commit a crime that will result in the death or serious bodily harm of another person is a violation of California Penal Code 422(a). Violations of this law may lead to a county jail imprisonment for up to one year or state imprisonment for up to ten years.

Do criminal cases have any bearing on civil cases for liabilities?

Well, it depends. While a criminal conviction for assault may strengthen an individual’s civil claim for damages, these two may have no effect on one another. One of the most well-known examples is that of the O.J. Simpson trial.

In criminal court, he wasn’t found guilty, but he was declared guilty in civil court. So it’s entirely possible that an abuser will not be sentenced to prison but will still be ordered to pay restitution.

In a nutshell, while both criminal and civil harassments are crimes and therefore liable to punishment, criminal harassment cases are more severe crimes. They require a knowledgeable defense attorney to protect the defendant’s rights.